Film Canister Battery




About: The name Cat’s Science Club comes from my daughter Aly, whom I call Aly Cat. She inspired me to take my love of science, and the fun I have with my students, to as many people as I can. Both my daughters hel...

Making a battery from film canisters, used wire, vinegar, and nails.

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Step 1: Materials

Film canisters
Safety goggles
Nails (zinc coated)
Wire Cutters
Alligator clips with wire
Scrap copper wire

No film canisters? You can use a cup with plastic wrap over the top.  That is the way we did it the first time. Works almost as good. We also sell the film canisters at but you maybe able to get them cheaper from e-bay.

No alligator clips? We used old speaker wire that we found. It works fine.

Step 2: Getting Copper Wire

Old scrap pieces of Romex wire works great to get copper wire.  Just take the ground wire out. It is the one with no insulation directly on it.  Once you have the wire out, cut it into pieces a bit smaller then your nails.  Now that you have your pieces of copper wire, we suggest you bend them. This prevents the wire from slipping around and gives a good place for the clips to hook to.

Step 3: Making the Battery

Put on safety goggles. Take your film canister with the lid on it and using the nail, punch two holes into the lid.  Place one copper wire and one nail into each lid. Remove lids and add vinegar to canisters. Replace lids and clean any spills. We now should have close to .5 volts.

Step 4: Connecting Batteries

It will take 3 canisters hooked together to get us enough energy to light up the LED. We can see the light in a very dark room but to be able to get the LED to shine more or to use other colored LEDs you will need more "batteries".

Hook the "batteries" to one another by connecting the alligator clips. We will need to connect one canister to the other by copper wire to nail. The copper wire is acting as a positive and the the nail is acting as a negative. String 3 or more canisters together to get enough energy to light the LED.

Step 5: Other

Add a red LED to the 3 batteries.  You will need to be in a dark room to see the light. Now add another battery, and another. See any difference?  Try a yellow LED. What else could you run on these batteries?

We have had the red LED running for five days on the 4 batteries.  Still shining!

No film canisters? You can use a cup with plastic wrap over the top.  That is the way we did it the first time. Works almost as good. We also sell the film canisters at but you maybe able to get them cheaper from e-bay.

No alligator clips? We used old speaker wire that we found. It works fine.

Light not turning on? Try switching the connections to the legs of the LED. You may just have it backwards.

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    52 Discussions

    tech savvy

    5 years ago on Introduction

    nice instructable ,
    just a little tip I thought I would share
    if you add lemon juice or grapefruit juice and folic acid your power output will be even higher , I tested it out and the results were good it powered an led for about five months ,

    once again nice job keep up the good work :)

    3 replies
    ebiehlertech savvy

    Reply 4 years ago

    That's really interesting. I'll give it a try.


    3 years ago on Introduction

    I used vinegar and copper and zinc-coated nails.

    Voltage was 0.5 per canister but very low capacity, it only works for some small LED.

    But after some time, around the zinc-nails something started oozing out, looking cool but makes no technical sense, anyone exactly knowing the chemistry about it? It only takes one day to show up again in that size after cleaning.

    Looks like the Monolith Monster!



    5 years ago on Introduction

    I've been looking for a easy, fun, electrical experiment to teach my daughter about electricity. Thanks for sharing!

    2 replies

    Great to know you will be using this! Have you seen our shake-a-can generator? We think it is a really good one for alternating current and the batteries show direct current (AC/DC).


    5 years ago on Introduction

    This along with the little tip would make a great science project/experiment for 3rd or 4th graders! I think the biggest difficulty today would be in finding 35mm film canisters. I still have a few but not anywhere near enough for even one class' science project.

    3 replies

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    Being a diabetic, I buy test strips for my glucose meter that come in a plastic can with a lid very much like a film canister. I've been saving for years so now I have bags of them. It's nice to be able to give away the canisters to my grade four students when we are done an experiment. So, if you know any diabetics, chances are they have plenty of these canisters laying around.

    We have seen many kids from 4th through 8th enjoy this. Including ourselves ;-)

    Film canisters can be bought from us at or perhaps cheaper from e-bay.

    To keep it free though, just use cups and plastic wrap over the top.

    If you are doing this in a classroom, ask for donations of old coffee cups and one roll of plastic wrap. Many people are happy to get rid of a cup or two. Students can make their own battery and then connect it to another, then another.

    Have fun with it!

    This was e-mailed to us and is being shared with permission.


    I smiled when I saw your Film Canister Battery on Instructables. Recently I purchased from a Charity Shop, a "Science Museum Kit" of a Clock powered by such a battery.
    I was not best pleased when I found the battery did not last very long so started some experiments with different types of vinegar from "Very Cheap" to the "Distilled White" as illustrated in Instructables.

    I cannot now remember the exact results but, Very Cheap Vinegar produced around 0.5 volt less than the Distilled Vinegar and, due to electrolosis, what I can only describe as "Dirt" build-up on the copper/zinc electrodes, the voltage from the very cheap vinegar fell to near zero in around a day whereas the one with Distilled Vinegar lasted much longer.

    So, hoping that's a bit of "Interesting Information" and could be the basis of experiments for your members?

    Regards, Aleyn D Lester, UK, aged 63 and still experimenting!


    Stuck for canisters just plug and play with same metals by putting into juicy lemons.
    One I haven't tried but should work is put an aluminum rod into a steel tube surrounded with silicon sealant . the aluminum should corrode at an excessive rate making Electricity.
    If this wont work I have sold you a LEMON!

    1 reply

    5 years ago on Introduction


    Great experiment!
    I have to agree with VetteBob, film canisters are getting few. Prescription bottles with the poptop are great! But you have to ask the pharmacist for the poptop - otherwise they use the really difficult "child-proof"(adult proof!).
    These basics should never escape us!

    1 reply

    5 years ago on Introduction

    So if the electrolyte is not used up - would it be possible to put multiple anodes and cathodes in the same container? Then wire a nail to a copper wire to a nail ... making one larger battery rather than a bunch of cells wired together to be a battery ?